Church of England row over Muslim conversion
By George Pitcher, Religion Editor
A row has erupted within the Church of England over calls for British Muslims to be converted to Christianity.
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, accused the Church of failing in its duty to "welcome people of other faiths" ahead of a motion at July's General Synod in York urging a strategy for evangelising Muslims.
However, his comments were condemned by senior figures within the Church. The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the former Bishop of Hulme and the newly appointed Bishop of Urban Life and Faith, said: "Both the Bishop of Rochester's reported comments and the synod private members' motion show no sensitivity to the need for good inter-faith relations. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs are learning to respect one another's paths to God and to live in harmony. This demand for the evangelisation of people of other faiths contributes nothing to our communities."
A Church of England spokesman added: "We have a mission-focused Christian presence in every community, including those where there are a large number of Muslims. That engagement is based on the provisions of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for freedom of thought, conscience and religion."
The spokesman played down the likelihood of the synod agenda being hijacked by those whose priority was a perceived threat from Islam: "The agenda has not yet been confirmed."
Pakistan-born Dr Nazir-Ali told the Mail on Sunday that, while Church leaders had rightly shown sensitivity to British Muslims, "I think it may have gone too far."
He added: "Our nation is rooted in the Christian faith and that is the basis of welcoming people of other faiths. You cannot have an honest conversation on the basis of fudge."
Britain's only Asian bishop, he was tipped to become Archbishop of Canterbury before Dr Rowan Williams's appointment in 2002.
Since he was passed over, he has felt able to speak more freely about his inter-faith views and has become a talisman for hard-line evangelicals who see Islam as a threat to culture and religion.
In January, he drew criticism for declaring that some parts of Britain were "no-go areas" for non-Muslims.
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